Research has indicated that the level of logistics development in many companies still is not as sophisticated as can be expected from visionary outlooks in literature, especially those relating to the promises of Supply Chain Management (SCM). Although there hardly exists any universally accepted definition of what SCM is, certain related themes such as coordination, integration, and cooperation are often repeated in different guises. Although sometimes expressed implicitly, these are often seen as imperative for SCM success. Coordination of logistics along an entire supply chain is put forth as having a potential to lend great benefits, but it requires the chain to be “… managed as one single entity where end customer satisfaction is the superior goal for all involved actors. This demands collaboration on a strategic level and that all involved actors have a true supply chain orientation.”
The majority of contemporary logistics practices are however far from this vision. There are sporadic reports on the odd case in which logistics collaboration have rendered exceptional results, but the majority of companies have not yet reached the full potential. As put by Spekman et al: “… business has yet to crack the code … talk is cheap and supply chain management is still only part of today’s jargon.” Companies are reported to, at best, focus internal optimisations and have neither managed to implement SCM in reality, nor adopt the underlying philosophy.
One possible explanation for this might be that the vast majority of logistics research neglects a very important factor: actors. It is the actors1 who carry out all the tasks and activities, from strategic to operative, of the logistics practices. Therefore the actors are of utmost importance for which logistics solutions that are implemented. As put so aptly by Skjoett-Larsen (2000): “In the end, it is the employees and not the systems and processes that will ensure solutions to the logistics tasks and provide the company with the necessary competitiveness. Therefore, it is crucial not to underestimate the human and cultural aspects in the implementati on of projects of change in the company.” (p. 386).
Anything that happens in the logistics practices of enterprises, apart from ‘catastrophic’ events such as accidents, are the effect of human decisions and actions. Decisions in a logistics system span a range from strategic, e.g. localization of facilities or outsourcing of entire service bundles, to operative, e.g. batch sizing, picking routes in a warehouse, or issuing dispatch orders. Actions are the effectuation of such decisions as well as any physical and administrative tasks that are necessary for the logistics to function. We can see an immense spectrum of actions and decisions dispersed over time and space, made by different actors in the logistics practices.
In a recent publication, actors are in fact the very basis for defining logistics: “Logistics and supply chain systems are networks of interacting human decision makers.” This contrasts the finding of Gammelgaard (2004), who, based on the framework of three methodological approaches presented by Arbnor & Bjerke (1997), concludes that it is the analytical and systems approaches that so far have dominated logistics. Regarding the third, the actors approach, it is stated: “The implication is that this approach may not be relevant in logistics, or maybe logistics researchers have not yet seen its potential for investigating new aspects of their field.” This paper intends to show that the latter alternative is most likely, by demonstrating the relevance of an actors approach (an interpretive approach).
To be more specific, the purpose of this paper is to apply an interpretive approach to actors’ systems thinking. The aim is to explore whether the systems thinking of actors within a mutual context (i.e. a certain shared logistics practice) differs, even in a context where a high degree of homogeneity in systems thinking can be assumed a priori. If differences can be demonstrated, it calls for the logistics research community to alter its systems thinking.
The purpose is pursued by first discussing the systems perspective that thus far seems to have dominated the discipline. Thereafter an alternative, ‘soft’, viewpoint regarding systems is presented, and from this perspective it is argued that an approach that can accommodate for differences in individual systems thinking is necessary. In order to handle this, a construct from cognitive psychology (mental models) as well as techniques for studying these (cognitive mapping) are adopted. These are then applied on a group of actors who are all related to one shared logistics practice, a retail chain store based in Sweden. Causal maps are created for all actors, and these are then compared in order to identify any similarities or discrepancies. The paper is wrapped up with a discussion of which implications the finding from this actors perspective can have for both research and practice.
2012. , 58 p.